Going all out to get green again

Going all out to get green again
A view at Jurong Lake Park shrouded by the haze on 23 October 2015.
PHOTO: BH

It has been six months since its Green Label certification was suspended - because the company was linked to the haze that blanketed Singapore last year - but Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is still reeling from the repercussions.

Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company said it lost "millions" of dollars in sales as a result of the suspension.

The ongoing suspension means its products, such as popular tissue brands Paseo and Jolly, remain absent from the shelves of major supermarkets here.

Products with the Green Label, which is issued by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), are considered environmentally friendly and APP is making getting the certification reinstated a priority.

APP's vice-president of corporate affairs in Singapore, Mr Jose Raymond, told The New Paper: "(Getting the certification reinstated is) at the top of our agenda and we're working with SEC. We will leave it in its hands."

Last September, the National Environment Agency (NEA) issued APP a notice under Section 10 of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

It demanded APP provide information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia, after large-scale forest fires erupted on land that was under the company's purview.

NEA also issued notices under Section 9 of the Act to six other firms based in Indonesia.

The next month, SEC suspended APP's Green Label, prompting supermarkets such as FairPrice and Sheng Siong to take APP products off their shelves.

Spokesmen for both supermarkets said they currently do not stock APP products.

Mr Raymond told TNP: "The haze episode of 2015 showed that APP needs to do a lot more on the ground to tackle the fires."

PREVENTION

To that end, APP invested US$20 million (S$27.4 million) in a multifaceted fire prevention and suppression programme, which included getting fire management experts to train 400 of its staff and suppliers.

APP also signed a memorandum of understanding with seven villages near its concessions in South Sumatra province.

Under the memorandum, APP committed itself to spending an additional US$10 million over five years on a variety of programmes to give villagers a reason not to clear land by burning down forests for illegal logging.

Indonesian environmental activist and independent journalist, Mr Taufik Wijaya, applauded APP for investing in farming communities.

"The money that it has pledged so far must be focused on improving the socio-economic status of the villages," he said.

For Mr Zenzi Suhadi, a campaign manager for Indonesian environmental group Walhi, the effectiveness of the programmes has yet to be determined.

"The success of APP's programmes will be seen only when the dry season truly comes around, in May to August," he said.

In Singapore, grassroots group People's Movement to Stop Haze was "glad" to see APP investing in community engagement programmes.

But the group's strategic development and research director, Mr Chris Cheng, said "such efforts should have started years ago when it was accused by many NGOs for its community exploitation and burning within concessions".

Professor Ang Peng Hwa, an adviser for the group, told TNP: "Quite clearly, what had been spent was not enough."

In 2013, APP and its suppliers spent US$4 million on fire detection and response, and on training for firefighters to fight fires on its concessions, according to its website.

Responding to the scepticism, Mr Raymond said: "What happened in 2015 was unprecedented, that's why APP has invested a lot more money in fire suppression and fire prevention this year."

MAPS

The company is one of the handful in Indonesia that made maps of its concessions, as well as those of its suppliers, available online for public scrutiny.

It is according to the World Resources Institute, which runs the Global Forest Watch, an online forest monitoring and fire alert system that provides detailed maps and analysis of forest fires around the world.

Additionally, in March, the Forest Stewardship Council announced that it is in talks with APP to reinstate the council's certification for the company.

The council, a global NGO promoting responsible fire management, terminated APP's certification in October 2007, citing "publicly available information" that showed APP was involved in destructive forestry practice.

The World Wide Fund for Nature considers the council's certification as being the best in ensuring environmentally responsible forest management.

So what would the end game be for Mr Raymond?

"It should be blue skies for all of us, right? That is ASEAN's end game as well," he said.


This article was first published on May 5, 2016.
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